Black Love – RS
When it comes to alternative rock’s biggest complainers, Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins is sad, and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails is mad, but only Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs is going to do something about it. “I’ll get the car, you get the match and gasoline,” Dulli roars as he prepares to set ablaze the city of his discontent in “Going to Town.” Masochist that he is, Dulli gleefully prepares to suffer the consequenses of his actions. He tells his partner in crime: “When you say ‘Now we got hell to pay’/ Don’t worry, baby, that’s OK/ I know the boss.”
On 1993’s Gentlemen, Dulli examined the pieces of a failed relationship with gut-wrenching honesty. On Black Love, Afghan Whigs’ sixth album, Dulli has accepted the fact that he’s beyond redemption, and he revels in his own evil.
When they signed to Elektra three years ago, the Whigs included a clause in their contract requiring the label to fund a film they wanted to make. Black Love could be the soundtrack to that unmade movie. It begins with a man on his way to murder his enemies (“Crime Scene Part One”) and continues with his being accused of a killing (“My Enemy”). After Dulli sets the city ablaze, he seeks repentance (“Night By Candlelight”) and, finally, attempts to reach a better place. “Lord, lift me out of the night/ come on look down/ and see the mess I’m in tonight,” He moans in the long piano- and cello-laden closer “Faded.”
Dulli comes off as a 90’s version of Superfly – “Hard to understand but a hell of a man,” as Curtis Mayfield sings in the 1972 song. The funk and grit of vintage 70’s blaxploitation films guide the album: It’s in the lyrics of the tough-talking “Honky’s Ladder” and the music of tracks like “Blame, Etc.” The latter begins with a devilish purr before bassist John Curley and organist Harold Chichester strike up a funk vamp; when the strings start soaring above it all, there is no doubt that Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead” has come back to life.
If Led Zeppelin explored light and dark, Black Love is an inquiry into gray and black. Sonically, Afghan Whigs are as adept as Smashing Pumpkins when it comes to creating sludgy, bottom-heavy textures. In most of the LP’s songs, meloncholic cellos and keyboards add drama to the band’s dense, spiraling guitar clusters. Elsewhere, steel guitar, organ, ambient sound effects, congas and clarinet push the album beyond alternative rock’s confines into what is often called ambition. And since Dulli is a much better lyricist than Corgan (Although not as sharp in the melody department), Black Love comes closer to capturing the pathos and madness of The Wall than the Pumpkins conceptual two-cd attempt, Mellon-Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
Quotations from other genres imbue the album with an element of familiarity. In addition to borrowing from funk, the band revisits the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” on the chorus of “Summer’s Kiss” , with Dulli doing a great Roger Daltrey. On “Going to Town”, Curley looks to ZZ Top for a bass line, and the melody and lyrics to the chorus of “Bulletproof” – “Every time I dream about you, baby/ with your hands all over me” – sound dangerously close to the Divinyls’ “I Touch Myself.”
Despite this thievery, there are elements of originality to be found in the way Afghan Whigs fuse alternative rock’s victim mentality with funk and soul to find a moment of transcendence, however fleeting it may be. The effect is of one big, glorious spit into the void. Black Love is Dulli’s way of pushing alternative rock beyond ambivalence and into action.
by Neil Strauss